On Sunday, April 25th, 1977, at the age of 48, my father took his own life suddenly, leaving my mother, age 35, me, age 16, and my brother, age 14, destitute and devastated. I had been the only one at home with him at the time, and though I pleaded with my dad not to leave us, his mental and physical state of pain overruled all my appeals. From that evening my life, my personality, my faith in the future, and my ability to be hopeful and trusting, ceased to exist. All my life decisions afterwards came from a place of fear, anxiety, mistrust, and cynicism.
I was unable to form relationships and/or attachments. I developed ineffective coping skills that only addressed immediate concerns, with no thought to future consequences. I saw no point to planning anything, and had no aspirations or motivation to move forward with my life. As if through a fog of numbing surrealism I managed to work, maintain an emotionally detached social life, and move robotically forward through my life.
Any hope of enjoyment was met with fear of loss; any hope of attachment to another held suspicion of loss; any attempts by others to get close to me were met with indifference, as I struggled to hide my shameful secret and feelings of guilt for not having been able to save my father’s life, for not having been important enough for him to have remained alive. Yet life moved forward, and I reluctantly and suspiciously moved along beside it as a voyeur, rather than with it, as a willing participant.
After two, five, seventeen years, I had not the knowledge or awareness to realize or even understand the concept of lifelong grief, and its permanent scar on my life. I imagined that I had put the matter behind me, and had "handled it all just fine, thank you very much."
In 1993, my mother was diagnosed with tracheal cancer, and died within 7½ months of her diagnosis, on March 17th, 1994. I was her sole caregiver throughout her illness and subsequent death, and had put my life on hold in order to take care of her every need. After that, it was a struggle to get my life back; having spent almost eight months living in the hospital with my mom, my social life was nonexistent. As if suddenly pulled into a time-warp, my father's suicide and the trauma I had silently suffered in its wake became very present once again, and along with my mother's horrible death, I was overcome by a state of hopeless despair. Friends and even family members did not feel comfortable with my grief, nor had they the capability, and in most cases, the inclination, to listen to my story without judgement and platitudes - there was no one I could share my fear, confusion, frustration, and despair with.
I was very much alone again, and wondered if anyone else had ever gone through such traumatic experiences, and felt the way I did. I found it extremely difficult to get back to any semblance of a life, as the landscape had once again forever changed, and so had I.
Sometime later I met Dawn Cruchet, a Montreal grief specialist, who helped me understand what had happened, bring meaning to it, and thus enabled me to find a way to live successfully with my grief. I decided to help other caregivers and grievers the way that I had been helped by Dawn... I had found my calling!
Armed with new-found motivation and focus, I went back to school and obtained two degrees and several certifications. In addition, I spent several years working with patients, family members, and health care professionals as the Cancer Patient Education Coordinator on the Oncology Day Center, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and on the oncology floor of the Montreal General Hospital. As well, I worked as a volunteer at Mount Sinai Hospital Palliative Care, and ran grief, bereavement, and Coping Skills support groups for Hope & Cope at the Jewish General Hospital, and at the Wellness Center. All this while maintaining a private practice as a psychotherapist at the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex!
Through my work - as an academic, as a professional, and as a volunteer, it became strikingly clear to me that there is a profound need for grief education and facilitation, given by qualified loss and grief specialists – a need which is not being met.